by Muhammad Sahimi
Netanyahu will be speaking to a joint session of Congress on March 3. He was invited by the House Speaker John Boehner, the day after President Obama’s state of the union address in which the President spoke in detail about the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and P5+1 – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany.
Proponents and opponents of the visit have been fiercely debating the visit. Supporters of the visit, mostly hardline Republicans, neoconservatives, and the right-wing of the American Jewish community want Netanyahu to rebut the President’s strategy of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, with the hope that they can scuttle a potential agreement with that country, as Netanyahu himself has promised.
The opponents of the visit, which include some major American politicians and even Jewish figures and organizations, such as Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Senators Bernie Sanders (In-Vt), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii),Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Tim Kaine (D-VA), Representative John Yarmuth (D-KY) and at least 34 other members of the Congress,Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, the J-Street advocacy group, Rabbi John Rosove, co-Chairman of J-Street’s rabbinic cabinet, and Jewish Voice for Peace, have urged Netanyahu to cancel the speech, believing that his speech will only harm Israel and its relations with the United States.
The arguments have become so heated that the Zionist Organization of America, a group that supports Netanyahu’s speech, compared Foxman and Jacobs to Jewish leaders who tried to play down Adolf Hitler’s rise in the 1930s. Jewish groups have been trading barbs. Most Israelis and Americans oppose the visit. And, the White House publicly accused Netanyahu of presenting a distorted picture of the negotiations with Iran.
As a Muslim and an Iranian-American who has lived in the United States for 37 years, I cannot be happier to watch what is happening.
I support Netanyahu’s move because, hopefully, Israel’s lobby in the United States will be the biggest casualty of the feud. This is a lobby that has had undue influence, at times hurting the true national interests of the United States, and preventing the U.S. from pursuing policies toward the Middle East that would serve its true national interests.
What is happening is simply the most public affirmation of what many of us pacifists and antiwar activists have been saying for decades: A main cause of terrorism by radical Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere, as well as worldwide animosity toward the US, is the blind support US foreign policy has given even the most hawkish Israeli regimes because of the influence of campaign contributors, think tanks, right-wing organizations, neoconservatives, the Islamophobia “industry,” and even evangelical Christians, without pondering even for a moment what the true national interest of the United States and even Israel are.
Pacifists like the author have been saying for years that Israel, backed by its lobby and supporters in the United States, wants to provoke a war with Iran, and the Boehner-Netanyahu brazen attempt to undermine the office of the president of the United States is only the latest and most public manifestation of it.
The voice of pacifists, objective analysts, and those who were concerned about the true national interests of the United States was always rejected as exaggeration or anti-Israel propaganda. But given what Boehner and his allies have done, there is no more denying it.
Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu is a naked, eye-opening episode for all Americans – Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, and others – who love this country and want peace in the Middle East.
To my knowledge, this is the first time in history that the Speaker of a country’s parliament has asked a foreign leader to come to its chambers to purposefully undermine the country’s own leader’s policies. It is not a stretch, as some commentators have said, to consider this a “near traitorous act.”
Although the invitation has provoked wide condemnation, including by one of Netanyahu’s main cheerleaders, Jeffrey Goldberg, it has not yet forced Boehner to un-invite Netanyahu. To Boehner, who received $103,601 from pro-Israel groups in the last election cycle, pleasing Israel’s lobby – and perhaps starting a war with Iran that will ultimately harm Israel too – is more important than having respect for the office of the president of the United States. If this is not due to harmful and undue influence by Israel’s supporters, I do not know what is or can be.
This is a Congress whose member Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Netanyahulast December, “You [Netanyahu], above all others, have said that sanctions [imposed on Iran] are what got Iran to the table, and it will be the only thing that brings them to a deal that we can all live with. I’m here to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Congress will follow your lead” [emphasis is mine], hence asking the head of a foreign government to tell the US how to conduct its policy in the Middle East.
To Graham, who received $288,150 in campaign contributions from pro-Israel groups for his last re-election, and must pander to Israel’s ardent supporters in South Carolina, namely, the Christian Zionists that make up the majority of the white voters in his state, it is more important to call for and support massive military attacks on Iran than helping this country get out of the vicious cycle of wars in the Middle East that the United States has been involved with since the 1990s. If this is not undue and harmful influence of a lobby, I do not know what is or can be.
This is a Congress whose member, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) who received $341,170 from pro-Israel groups in the last election, is one of the most vocal and active proponents of sanctioning Iran, which he insists – against the 2007 judgmentof the US intelligence community, reaffirmed in 2010, 2011, and 2012 – is on the verge of weaponizing nuclear material. With his fellow Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) – “AIPAC’s million-dollar baby” – Menendez co-authored a 2011 sanctions law that effectively cut Iran’s central bank off from the rest of the world, making it exceedingly difficult for the country to sell its oil abroad and leading to a rapid downturn in the Iranian economy, harming tens of millions of innocent Iranians. They are supported by Senator John McCain (D-AZ), who has never heard of a war that he has not liked, the man that sang “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” and received $109,974 from pro-Israel groups for his last election.
Up to now, the public at large was not well aware of such proponents of war with Iran and supporters of Netanyahu, because a lot of what they were doing was behind the scenes. But Boehner’s invite and the raging debates about it have brought the issue to the fore and in full view of the public.
When John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt tried to publish their original article, The Israel Lobby, in the United States, they could not. The Atlantic Monthly turned them down, even thought it had commissioned the article, and the authors are both distinguished professors and foreign policy experts. So, they published a condensed version of it in London Review of Books. And, after it was published, the authors were attacked, with Walt saying that publishing the article (and later on, the book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy) “ended any thought of serving in the US government.”
When former President Jimmy Carter, the architect of the Camp David Accords, published his book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, he was also attacked by Israel’s lobby and supporters in the US, and has been ostracized ever since, forcing even Obama not to seek his advice.
Mearsheimer, Walt, and Carter are not the only ones that have spoken the truth about the Israel lobby influence, but only three of the most prominent ones. Now, we can all see that they were right. We the pacifists knew it all along, but now the public can see it too.
Make no mistake. What Netanyahu and his supporters really want is to destroy the prospects for a negotiated settlement with Iran, and start a new war in the Middle East.